Tag Archives: Forensic Evidence

True that skulls can be used to create recognizable faces

Wardrop, Ian and Neave, Richard I know that face. New Scientist. No 3101 November 26th 2016.
https://www.newscientist.com/topic/lastword/i-know-that-face/

 

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The trouble with police, large photograph databases and face recognition technology

Hodson, Hal Police mass face recognition in the US will net innocent people. New Scientist. October 20th 2016.

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2109887-police-mass-face-recognition-in-the-us-will-net-innocent-people/

United States Government Accountability Office Face Recognition Technology: FBI Should Better Ensure Privacy and Accuracy. May 2016.

http://www.gao.gov/assets/680/677098.pdf

Had you assumed that hiring human super-recognizers to perform face recognition tasks would be less effective, less accurate and more open to bias than using technology? Think again.

Can you spot a sex offender or a terrorist just by looking at their face?

Adee, Sally Controversial software claims to tell personality from your face. New Scientist. May 27th 2016.

Similar story also in print: Issue 3076. June 4th 2016.

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2090656-controversial-software-claims-to-tell-personality-from-your-face/

 

Wow, I just lost all respect for The Met

…which is a pity as the Metropolitan Police in London are apparently world leaders in the use of super-recognizers in law enforcement.

Coghlan, Andy Expert witness on “shaken baby syndrome” faces misconduct charge. New Scientist. October 6th 2015, amended October 7th 2015.

https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn28291-expert-witness-on-shaken-baby-syndrome-faces-misconduct-charge/

 

Will a super-recognizer identify the British man who murdered American journalist James Foley?

A number of names have been put forward by the press:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iraq/11049953/Net-closes-on-Jihadi-John-as-London-pair-probed.html

The value of CCTV questioned in Queensland

The value of CCTV in preventing crime has been questioned in Queensland following another tragic murder of a young person, which resonates with concerns about CCTV that I’ve aired at this blog in the past. CCTV might be a valuable tool in solving crimes, but everyone would much prefer that crimes be prevented or at least intercepted in a timely manner by police. The full video of this story will probably appear in a day or two at the 7.30 website.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-04-10/this-week-on-730-queensland/5382066?section=qld

Is face recognition (in conjunction with other forms of identification) once again the key to solving a crime mystery?

“I started to read about the shearers’ strike and I made a discovery. I found a photograph of the Strike Committee and there, standing up, in the middle is a person that I know was Joe Quinn. At this stage, he was calling himself Payne but I know him and recognise him as Joe Quinn from Gatton. I was so surprised to see that he was quite an influential member of the strike committee. And I remembered evidence that had been disregarded that Michael had a confrontation with a union official in a barber shop in north west Queensland and I wondered if the confrontation had been with this man, Joe Quinn.” – STEPHANIE BENNETT

This is a transcript from a story on the current affairs TV series Australian Story about a lady by the name of Stephanie Bennett who has spent years trying to solve the mystery of the horrific and vile Gatton murders. Bennett’s theory is that Quinn was the ringleader in the murders in company with others. I find her argument believable. Here are some more quotes from the transcript of the report:

“So Mum believes that Joe Quinn had been using aliases for years to evade the law. But he had a tattoo, he had some missing fingers, and he’d had a gunshot accident to the groin some years ago.” – ANGELA O’MALIA

“And under the name Adams, he is described as having one tattoo on his left forearm…” – STEPHANIE BENNETT

My knowledge of critical thinking and fallacies in decision-making tells me that questions need to be asked about this kind of evidence. Was the tattoo an exact match, visually or by description? How common was it for men at the time to have a tattoo on the left forearm, missing fingers or a gunshot wound to the groin? One needs to always consider base rates within the relevant population before deciding that some characteristic is unusual or abnormal or significant in some way. One must also ask how reliable was Bennett’s visual recognition of Quinn in the photo. But I guess such doubts might be unnecessary given the info that Quinn lost his job and was sent to jail for past crimes. One can only assume that this conviction was based on good evidence available at the time.

This interesting mystery is one of countless demonstrations of the importance of excellent face memory ability in solving crimes and identifying suspects, and it also demonstrates why we should never discourage the habit of criminal types to adorn their bodies with tattoos. In doing this they give a gift to police and detectives who are trying to identify persons of interest. Faces and tattoos are highly visible, permanent and distinctive features that can be used to identify people who are suspected of committing crimes. It is a wonder and a paradox that the section of society which has the most to lose from having a tattoo is the one that appears to have the most enthusiasm for getting them.

The story of this Australian murder mystery is also a reminder that criminals and psychopaths can and often do have charismatic and popular personalities. Regardless of whether or not Quinn was involved in the murders, it appears that he had been a leader in one of Australia’s most important industrial disputes, but also had a criminal past and a habit of using false names, and his dark past eventually caught up with him resulting in some time in prison. There is a popular image of the criminal psychopaths as loners, but it is more often the case that they are leaders.

Australian Story. When Blood Runs Cold – Transcript: Monday, 17 June , 2013. http://www.abc.net.au/austory/content/2012/s3783411.htm

Ear recognition the key, not face recognition?

One of the stories on 60 Minutes (Australian) a couple of weeks ago was interesting in terms of the visual and forensic recognition and identification of a person. The title of the true story was The Imposter,  reported by Karl Stefanovic and produced by Gareth Harvey. The story was about the missing American boy Nicholas Barclay and the French serial impostor Frédéric Bourdin who pretended to be the missing boy grown older. A documentary film about this story was released this year. Amazingly, he was believed by close relatives of the missing boy even though his eyes and hair were of a different colour to the missing boy, his age was a mismatch, he had a French accent, and of course a different face. The most disturbing aspect of the story was how an obvious faker found in Spain could have been misidentified as a missing American boy by police, the FBI and the US immigration department, and then legally documented as the missing boy and flown to the USA. These organizations are full of blind people? I guess these organizations must have a great record for employing the disabled, but also a lousy record for doing their jobs accurately. I’m not sure if these organizations need to recruit some super-recognizers, or just need to employ more people with basic thinking and decision-making skills and a firm grasp on rationality.

An interesting feature that this case shares with the baffling Australian mystery the Taman Shud Case or the Mystery of the Somerton Man is the forensic examination of ears to identify a person. The French impostor was busted by private investigator Charlie Parker who noticed that the ears of Barclay and  Bourdin did not match. ”I asked the cameraman to zoom in on his ears, because I knew that was the way to identify people for sure; I had read a book about Scotland Yard doing that.” This is another thing that amazes me about this case; I don’t understand why the ears were seen as a more certain way to prove that the man with the French accent wasn’t the American missing boy than the different colours of the irises of their eyes or their clearly different faces. Why are ears seen as a more objective measure? Because they are an overlooked part of the body that people don’t cosmetically alter much? It makes me wonder whether our culture has been misled into thinking that face recognition by humans is a subjective art because of instances of facial misidentifications by some prosopagnosics whose disability isn’t understood. Most people are very good at identifying faces of other people from their own race, and are also naturally very good at identifying voices. Some people are exceptionally good at remembering faces. There are times when we need to trust our own natural abilities and use our common sense.

Missing boy and the will to believe. by Stephanie Bunbury Sydney Morning Herald. February 23, 2013

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/missing-boy-and-the-will-to-believe-20130222-2evb8.html#ixzz2PhgTuPLA

60 Minutes. http://sixtyminutes.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=8633767

Somerton Beach Mystery Man. Reporter: Simon Royal. Stateline (South Australia) Broadcast: 15/05/2009  http://www.abc.net.au/stateline/sa/content/2006/s2573273.htm

Ashton Foley’s mugshots – a minor mystery

A collection of old mugshots of Ashton Foley from her misadventures in the USA were published in Saturday’s West. I’m still left wondering why in one of them her skin looks markedly darker and the overall effect in that shot was of an African-American look, while I didn’t get that impression from the other photos, neither from a fairly recent Australian interview video of Foley that can be seen on the internet. One clue is that the brown-skinned mugshot was taken not long after she had given birth to twins. I considered whether melasma, or the “mask of pregnancy” might have been the cause of her darker skin, but from what I’ve read about it. it manifests as brown blotches, not an overall darker complexion. Perhaps she just got a tan. What I find interesting is how a slight change of skin tone changed the way I would describe her race. I think this shows how much of a red herring eyewitness categorizations of race can be, if they can be altered by small changes in the skin tone of individuals.

That sounds like a good idea

This is a quote about Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville of London’s Metropolitan Police, from the article about super-recognizers by Caroline Williams published in New Scientist magazine last year:

“He also wants there to be a formal qualification that super-recognisers can be awarded so that their evidence is taken more seriously in court…”

An internationally-recognized formal certification of super-recognizers based on testing with the Cambridge Face Memory Test (CFMT) and any other relevant and scientifically validated test of face memory would not only be useful for policing and law enforcement, it would also be useful for non-police super-recognizers who would like to have their special ability recognized in the workplace or in any area of life. I don’t see why this should be such an impossible thing to organize. Unfortunately, it appears that the goal of having this useful skill tested has become less, not more available, as it appears that the CFMT is no longer freely available for people to attempt as subjects in academic research. Potential super-recognizers or suspected prosopagnosics shouldn’t have to volunteer as subjects in research studies to be able to access face memory testing and their own test results. One could question how representative such populations of study subjects are of the general population. People who suspect that their face memory ability is beyond the norm also shouldn’t have to shop around to try to find some expensive private psychologist who has ever heard of face recognition testing and is able to grant access to relevant tests. It’s time that psychology researchers realized that their relationship with research subjects and the general public isn’t just a one-way street. Anyone should be able to access a piece of paper certifying their level of face memory ability, without cost or hassle. It’s not a big thing to ask.